The Ultimate Teacher’s Summer To-Do List

Pep Talks & Positivity

If you’re anything like me, you woke up this morning and realized summer is quickly (serious emphasis on quickly) ticking away. So, with the limited amount of time we have left, I wanted to encourage you to do the following 5 things before the next busy school year starts again!

  1. Catch up on To-Do’s and Appointments– I know that we’re given sick days/personal days for a reason, but I don’t typically use them on just anything. I don’t want to give up my paid time to get a cavity filled if I don’t have to. Plus, the preparation factor and then catch-up after a substitute is quite overwhelming to me. I recommend trying (when possible) to schedule appointments and other not-super-fun-to-do items for the summer. That way, you can leave the appointment thinking “okay, now I have the whole rest of the day to do what I want!” instead of “I wonder if my kids could find the activity in their workbook….what if there was a disaster… what if this student needed me??”
  2. Clean/Organize your Classroom and Digital Accounts– I tend to pile up papers nearly as bad as I allow emails to pile up. Until summer hits, I rarely hit delete on an email. (Trust me, I’m very organized in other ways, but this simply isn’t my strong suit.) I love taking summer to create a blank slate for the next year. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of teaching (besides the awesome kids) is that there’s closure from one “assignment” to the next. Do yourself a favor and don’t start the new year with a full inbox of outdated emails about last year’s faculty meetings.
  3. Professional Development– Because many of us are slammed during the school year outside of our teaching day (coaching, sponsoring clubs, grad school, grading, planning, parent teacher conferences, IEP meetings, etc etc etc) going to a professional development from 4-6 pm often becomes less of an enrichment and more of a burden, regardless of how empowering the information being delivered is. I love completing as much of my required professional development during the summer as I can so that I can actually enjoy it, with a fresh mind. This summer, for example, I am attending workshops on technology in the classroom, youth mental health, and responsive classroom.
  4. Make Goals for Next Year– Take time this summer to reflect on what you did well last year and what you want to change for this next year. Was it how you managed your class? How was that project-based learning assignment? How could you smoothly integrate technology better next year? How can you be sure to challenge your high-achievers better next year? How can you differentiate re-teaching to students who may struggle on that math concept? You can also make personal goals about stress, time you spend grading, reaching out to parents, etc. Write your goals down so you remember them. 🙂
  5. Relax– This is most important of all! Be sure to give yourself time to sleep in, travel, catch up on that good book, and even binge watch some TV shows. Don’t feel guilty for not having a list everyday. It’s healthy to take some time for ourselves, and it prepares our hearts to be more patient, loving, and enthusiastic towards our next crew that will be arriving this upcoming school year.

The Firefly Analogy

Pep Talks & Positivity

I’m going to be honest with you here and tell you that I hate bugs. They scare me. It doesn’t matter how big they are or how small they are, but I will mention that the number of legs definitely doesn’t improve a bug’s cause. Gross.

There is one bug, though, that I actually quite adore. It’s a firefly (or lightning bug, depending on where y’all live!) It’s the only bug I will purposefully catch to say hello to!

Teaching has a lot to do with fireflies. In fact, in my mind, it’s the perfect analogy.

Sometimes, we as educators are doing all that we can to be the best teacher we can be. In our classrooms, we make personal connections, we provide differentiation, and we give formative assessments. We plan projects, we think of creative active learning, and we do all we can to be involved in extra curricular activities too.

Yet, if you’re anything like me, you’ve shut your door at the end of the day, exhausted, and to be honest, didn’t always feel like you were making the difference you wanted to. Sometimes it’s in student learning, building classroom culture, or your involvement in the school as a whole. You didn’t feel it because you couldn’t see your impact at that particular time.

Here comes the analogy. Because fireflies are nocturnal, they rest during the day. But, they’re still there. As it turns to dark, we see the magic. The evening sky reveals a crowd of flashing little nightlights, a glimmer of hope after a long summer day. Their light reminds me that sometimes we can’t always see the impact we make as teachers, yet it’s always there.

When you see a firefly this summer, consider sending off a good wish. A wish for your impact during the next school to be evident to you, regardless in the light or the dark. A wish for your confidence to never cease!

A Note to My Tired Teachers

Pep Talks & Positivity

Cheers to you, my tired teacher friend! This message goes out to anyone in the teacher nation, who is now officially on (or close to) summer break. You have made it!

This year was a lot for you. I know that it was. You arrived early. You laminated everything. You graded a stack of papers on your back patio countless times, while simultaneously trying to paint your toenails. You handed out 248 band-aids, and 193 if them were for fingers that “hurt” but weren’t actually bleeding. You spent hundreds of dollars in the seemingly endless abyss that is the Target Dollar Spot. You lived on coffee, flavored water, and an occasional diet coke, which is ironic since you only had 1 bathroom break each day. You told 88 jokes, and for 82 of them, you were the only one who laughed. You jammed the copier 8 times, and 17 dry erase markers dried up because the caps were lost by students who shouldn’t have even been touching them in the first place. You handed out 571 pencils, and you received 11,397 emails. And, as we head into summer, your inbox is still pretty full.

And while that craziness happened, you also did some truly amazing things. You dried a child’s wet eyes 39 times. You lost 6 hours of sleep worrying about the student whose parents are going through a divorce. You gave 271 high fives to kids who needed encouragement. You helped resolve a friendship scuffle 8 times, ensuring no one sat alone at lunch. You skipped your own lunch 67 times to make sure your lessons were polished for your classes so your kids could learn most effectively. You wrote 35 positive notes home, you complimented a cool hair cut 59 times, and most importantly, you made children smile more times than you can count.

And, in return, their smiles put a smile on your very own face.

Whether you’re a veteran teacher, or a brand new one, this year brought new challenges along with new joys. The opportunity to inspire a love of learning in children is a heavy burden to bear, but one that you are happy to do. Some of your class sizes were growing, some of your leadership was unsupportive, and some of your events were understaffed. But you still made it through. And you did it for the kids. You did it for their precious smiles. And some day, I promise–whether it be in 11 years or 11 days–those kids’ smiles that you were responsible for will turn into little, but mighty, weapons to help them succeed. Congratulations on making it through another school year. You are tired, but oh dear teacher, you have done good. Your fatigue proves your success.

Please share with other teachers that you think “did good” this year! 

Showing Appreciation

Pep Talks & Positivity

As I’m gaining more leadership roles around my school in conjunction with taking leadership classes, it’s probably an understatement to say that leadership has been on my mind. I’ve learned a lot about how to be a good leader from my textbooks as well as the experience I’ve gained in my new roles. 

While there are many important leadership qualities to have, one that I think is so important, especially during this time of the year, is the ability to show appreciation.

Here’s why I believe showing appreciation can be a cornerstone of running a successful team:

1. People thrive on being recognized. Just as positive words and affirmation encourage our students to keep up the behavior we like to see in our classrooms, adults are wired the same way. If you truly like what you see, let that person know. The chance that they continue doing this desired thing is much higher. I encourage you to be specific in your appreciation because general “thank you” blanket statements may not be as effective or genuine. Since it is typically their responsibility, leaders are often prone to look for issues that need solved; to balance this, it is important that leaders are mindful about looking for positive things to praise.

2. Showing thankfulness, followed by a correction, is an easy way to fix a mistake without ruining a positive relationship. Especially whenever you know that someone is doing their best, giving them a correction can sometimes come across as being ungrateful and can therefore hurt feelings or ruin a relationship that took time to build. If you find something that can improve or needs to be fixed, try to also point out that you are thankful, first. Example: “Thank you so much for your hard work on this project you were assigned. I see you turned your part of the project in early, and this timeliness really impresses me. There was one part that I’d like to draw your attention to. (Point it out and explain the problem.) Would you be able to fix this now that I’ve clarified the expectation?”

3. Spreading thankfulness defines the culture of your organization or group. I’ve noticed that negative energy, such as complaining, really dissolves whenever the team members are built up and encouraged. Even the toughest of challenges and circumstances, when met with appreciation, can create an enjoyable environment. Just as smiles are contagious, positive energy is too. If a leader enters the room and people know they will feel encouraged, they are more likely to show kindness and appreciation to each other, too. An appreciation set-up like this is often at the leader’s fingertips to model first; then, others will follow and a positive culture will be created. A positive culture can also result in a more productive and successful environment because your team members will learn to lean on each other to accomplish the tasks.

While saying “thank you” can certainly be enough, leaders are often also short on time, and schedules don’t always line up for these conversations. If you don’t have enough time to meet with each person individually, leaving a message or a little sign of gratitude in their classroom, mailbox, or office can also go a long way. Notes, sweet treats, or gift cards show that you were thoughtful and thankful. 

These “you’re the sweetest” m&m’s will serve as thank you’s for a team of teachers I lead at my school. I’m going to put them in their mailboxes next week.

No matter how you do it, showing that you appreciate someone is an easy, yet effective skill for a leader to possess. How do you show appreciation in your leadership roles?

The Last Month of School

Middle School Classroom, Pep Talks & Positivity

So, as we roll into the last month of school, I have been hearing colleagues counting down the days left. Summer is coming! I’d be a fool to say I wasn’t excited for my schedule to calm down for a couple of months; I’m quite busy with graduate school right now, and my involvement in extracurricular activities at my school is at an all-time high for me. I could use a little break, honestly. Fellow teacher, I have a feeling that just like me, you’re also getting tired at this point in the year.

But, I’d like to encourage you to to make sure you’re counting the right thing during this last month. Instead of counting down days until summer, why don’t we count how many kids get inspired by our lessons or how smiles we put on tiny faces?

As you read this, I’d also love for you to be able to check out the materials I talk about in this post by visiting my TPT store here:

The thought that I only had less than a month left with my ducklings this year actually stunned me this past weekend. I legitimately felt overwhelmed and sad. More than anything, I wanted to keep building them up together as a community and continue to help them feel like they can change the world. Truly, they can, and it’s my job to make sure they know it! If I haven’t convinced every kid of that yet, I decided to continue being determined to do just that. 🙂

So, I counted the days and realized I had about 26 left. Being the geek I am, an association flashed into my mind. Ah, 26 = letters of the alphabet.

I decided to create a warm-up that used a different letter for the alphabet, starting with A, for each day for the rest of the year.

Here’s what I wanted my warm-up to help me accomplish in the last month of school:

  1. I wanted it to be positive part of class each day. It needed to let me continue having good life-talks with my kids, have them form a strong classroom community, and allow them to feel encouraged.
  2. I wanted it to be a way for my students to understand that when they entered the room they were still expected to come in and get right to work on something. This has always been my expectation, and it continues to be my expectation now, too, even though the school year is coming to a close. I believe it sets the groundwork for hard-working expectations during the rest of class, too.
  3. I wanted to give them a chance to creatively write about their opinion; so often, they are required to provide evidence to prove a point about literature. This is absolutely an important skill, but for once, I just wanted them to tell me what was on their heart.
  4. I wanted it to encourage reflection at the end of the school year. Towards the end of the alphabet especially, I added more reflection on our class and their progress in middle school. Part of truly experiencing something (especially the learning process) requires reflection, which also lends itself to active goal-setting and more future success!

I’d love for you to be able to continue investing in your students through the end of the year too–check out my ABC warm-up on my TPT store by clicking here:

Regardless of how many days you have left at school, or how you choose to handle this important time in your very own classroom, I hope that you continue investing your time into counting was truly counts…not just days until it’s over. 🙂

My Little Orange Flag

Middle School Classroom, Pep Talks & Positivity

I walked into my classroom the other day and discovered that my room was being used during the off-periods as an extended testing room for the state tests. I had some work to get done, so I warmed up my food for lunch and continued working.

When I came back, I looked around at the handful of students, using my room to get extra time to finish their test.

That’s when I heard it. The little sniffles.

I looked up, following the sound, and realized that it was one of my kiddos, still testing into the afternoon. He was making up a test from the day before, and he was, unfortunately, crying.

It pained me to see him frustrated. It’s in those standardized-test-moments that you wish you could reach out and just lend a hand. Of course, you can’t. My mind ran through ways to help him without violating any official rules. How could I make him stop crying?!

And then it hit me.

I pulled out a sharp #2 pencil and a little orange sticky note. With a marker, I quickly wrote the following:

“You rock, bud! I’m so proud of you!” and I taped it on the pencil like a little orange flag.

I stood up, went over to his desk, and laid down the extra pencil. Smiling, I walked away.

A short moment later, his sniffling ceased, and all I could hear were the sounds of his pencil tip, now scribing quickly, across his page.

It made me realize that sometimes, a little sticky note and a few words of encouragement can go a long way. Don’t forget this with your students, dear friend. The smile that you give them, the compliment you throw their way, and the few words of acknowledgement you offer can make the biggest difference to them and in their success.

Teachers Are Superheroes

Pep Talks & Positivity

Sometimes, there’s this hustle and bustle going on in our lives that force us to go through the motions, almost blindly.

We snooze our alarms, we let the dog out, we put the coffee on. Some days, our outfit doesn’t match. Other days, we spill our coffee on our outfit. We get stuck in traffic on our way to work, and when we arrive, we remember we don’t have copies of what we wanted for first period. We end up covering a class during our plan period, and we work with kids during our lunch. We check in with students who haven’t turned in work because we want them to succeed, we write nurse passes, and we teach our lessons over and over, perfecting them as we go. When we get a free second during study hall, we grade three and a half quizzes, and we smile because that’s three and a half less than we will have to take home over the weekend. At the end of the day, we read the eighteen emails we received throughout the day, and we respond as we can.

We love it. Truly. Teachers love to be busy, and that’s why after we respond to emails, we help lead an after-school club every Tuesday. And when we pack up our bag to go home, we turn off the lights everyday, and everyday we close the door. And then tomorrow, we do the same thing.

Again, we love it.

Some days, though, we forget that we are superheroes. Sometimes it takes a moment to catch our breaths or a moment where we’re so filled with joy that we stop to cry and realize it.

My “superhero” canvas from one sweet student!

The other day, a student made me this canvas, with my initial in the middle. And, she told me that she created it this way because it looked like a superhero.

I didn’t ask her what she meant by that, but I can tell you that I couldn’t name one of the marvel or avengers superheros; it’s not one of my hobbies by any means. Regardless of what she meant by it, it encouraged this little teacher’s heart to the point that my eyes welled up with tears.

And I stopped, and I remembered.

Because beyond the muddy dog paws on my kitchen floor, and the pile of essays I need to grade, and the long drive home I have ahead of me, and the meal I need to cook tonight, and the dishes that need done, and my clothes that need folded, and my emails that need sent…. beyond that, I made a difference.

It’s hard whenever we just go through the motions because we don’t remember that we have the opportunity to touch hundreds of little hearts everyday. In fact, we probably did just that!

Dear teacher, what you do matters. You matter. And although your day might have been hectic in every way you could define it, you made a difference in a child’s life today. You’re truly a superhero. Thanks for all that you do.

Notes from Students

Middle School Classroom, Pep Talks & Positivity

One of the most satisfying parts of being a teacher is receiving notes from our students. Sometimes, they thank us for teaching them something new or believing in them. Sometimes, they write us notes saying that we’re their favorite teachers or that they love us! The main reason this is so validating is because it means somewhere along the way, we’ve made a connection with that student. It’s no secret that making those connections with our students make our instruction more effective.

A student wrote me this note last week and placed it in my mailbox–unsigned!

Have you ever gotten a note from a student that you didn’t expect to write you one? Have you ever gotten a note from a student that wasn’t even signed? There is something even more special about these types of notes. 🙂

So, what can you do after you after you receive a note?

  1. Thank the student (if you know who they are.) These thoughtful actions should be appreciated and reinforced!
  2. Write the student back if you have something to compliment them on! This doesn’t have to be immediate, and in fact, will be more genuine if you wait, but it will still mean a lot to them.
  3. Ask the student to stay after class and thank them. Simply ask them what is new in their life or how things are going. Sometimes, kids reach out as a way of connecting, so give them the opportunity to.

Pep Talk: Your kids love you. While notes may be few and far between, be patient and thankful when they do come. Think of it as we communicate as adults; when was the last time you called one of your friends? If you’re anything like me, it has maybe been a few weeks! Don’t hold your students to expectations that you can’t even keep. And, when you receive this love, make sure to give it back! Acknowledge whenever your kids do good things, thank them when they are kind to others, and give them a reward when they exceed expectations. After all, the saying goes that it’s better to give than to receive, right?

When Someone Tells You to Change…

Middle School Classroom, Pep Talks & Positivity

Thanks for joining me!

Change can be scary, and sometimes scary is good.

My stomach was churning on my way to my professional development day. I was worried that I wouldn’t find friends to sit by, that I’d have to eat fruit snacks in my car by myself during lunch (that yes, I packed in preparation just in case) and that someone would tell me I’d have to change. Changes were just so… risky.

I’d venture to say that the majority of educators get nervous whenever professional development days roll around because they know that they will get pushed to their limits. Changes can be scary, but sometimes scary is good. My school district lovingly welcomed George Couros to give a keynote address during this professional development day. His goal was to help us inspire students toward innovation.

During the day, we realized that a big way to be innovative in our classrooms is to embrace technology and allow students to think outside of the box. We were asked if we believed that young people were better with technology than we are; we all said yes. Couros, on the other hand, changed our perspectives by telling us the truth: opposed to us, children are not afraid to push buttons. Instead, they simply take the risks, and they figure it out. We all applauded. Of course that’s what we want our children to do! We want them to not be afraid to fall down. Educators understand that mistakes help lead our children to success.

Why do we, then, get scared of change? Act like a child, and push some buttons. Let someone else “push your buttons” and challenge your views. Whether you buy into every word the speaker says, be willing to open your mind to experience advice and transform your thoughts. Taking risks might teach you something new.