Summer Reset Series- Part 1 The Classroom

#A2TClassroomPurge

July 8, 2021

Downsize to maximize. It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But it’s a truer statement than I ever realized myself, until I walked the walk. About 8 years ago, I started on a journey into minimalism because of how bad my allergies were, and because our family was bursting our great little house at the seams. While my family isn’t as eager as I am to be on this journey and I’ve made many changes for just myself, there are several things we did to our home and to our workplaces that really made us more efficient and made sure we were using what we had.

I recently heard a guiding question I want to share: “If the unthinkable happened and you lost everything, what would you need to replace and what would you never replace?”

This really opens our eyes to the intrinsic value of what we allow to take up space in our home, classrooms and minds.

So with summer upon us, how about dedicating some time to purge your classroom? I did this several years ago and cleared out so much, I was scared I wouldn’t be a good teacher. But the opposite happened. I knew what I had, where it was and used it all at some point during the year. So, let’s break it down into categories. You can focus on the areas you may need, or go through them all. Don’t try to do it all in one day, that can be too overwhelming, and not a good use of your summer or free time.

The trick to this being successful is putting hands on every single item in the category. Otherwise, you may overlook a box or bin, or procrastinate. Have a trash/recycling box and a donate bag/box right next to you and, as soon as it is filled, take it to it’s new home (for donations you can put them in your vehicle or a corner of the room to take all at once).

If you find it limiting to look at quantities, then set the boundaries of space and let storage be the deciding factor. This can really help if you tend to have little storage, have to move, or have to bring things home in the summer to store.

To get started, here’s what you need: trash bags, boxes and your camera to take before photos with. Once you’ve purged, you will need storage containers and labels of some sort, but I like to wait to get those until I’ve cleared out, unless you are limited on storage space and using that as your guide, then you will want those available now.

Decorations We all want our classrooms to have a look or theme, but for some children these days, too much can be, well, too much. Having only a few things of your theme then using color coordination can really help emphasize your theme without overwhelming students. If you rotate themes year to year or during the year with units or seasons, then do the same for each and then store them together.

Furniture This can be challenging, so be sure to think of how you use the space. Small groups? Pairs? Independent work? Free spaces? Floor, sitting, standing spaces? Choose versatile seating that can do all of these and have enough seating for the maximum number of students, plus a few extra for adults that may come through–parents visiting, administrators or guests observing. A basket of towels and blankets from the thrift store can be taken home and washed often and be great alternative seating for all ages. Be sure to talk to your administration about moving what you have or seeing if there is a district location where other items are stored that you can “shop” and have placed in your room. The year I found out about this, I swapped from desks to tables and it really decluttered my classroom space.

Books I know it’s hard, but this is the area you can really clear the most out of, especially if your school has a library! Librarians are amazing resources and can work with you to pull books for you to borrow on certain topics or genres, as needed. This is also a great place to donate your decluttered books to, then they haven’t gone far! Also, declutter those old textbooks. If you keep it around for one or two stories, make a copy or scan then get them gone. Be sure to check with your school on how to box and send them on since many follow certain protocols.

Supplies Bulletin boards, cleaning, crafts, projects, paper, pencils, crayons, glue, scissors–there’s a lot that is needed throughout the year. Most of us have more than we need. There are several ways to address this category. First, look at what you use daily/weekly. These you want to keep extra of. For those items that are for certain projects or units, you can keep enough for everyone to complete and store it in a box labeled for that unit so you can find it quickly. Bulletin board borders store well rolled up into icing containers and can be labeled by season/unit. For crayons, markers or color pencils, keep them all in one big box for each. As much as we like to keep them in small boxes and sorted, as soon as the frequent flyer color gets used, the whole box won’t be wasted, this just saves a step. Be sure to have a marker recycling bucket and one for old crayons–you can melt the wax and make new ones with candy molds or ice trays! As for your personal supplies like paper, pens and pencils–keep only what you use during the year.

Paper Files & Resources This is a tough category to purge since it is time consuming, but it is so worth it. Here’s some tips speed it up–if you have a digital copy, it goes. If you aren’t teaching that subject or grade, make a digital copy then let it go. If you are teaching that subject but haven’t used it in 2+ years, or have to alter it to use it, digitize and toss. I had 2 large 2-drawer file cabinets plus 4 boxes of old files and, using these guidelines, sent 4 large bags to recycling and everything else fit into a binder that was sorted by skill set.

Digital Files & Resources I think this is the hardest to declutter since it is out of sight and out of mind, but getting these purged and organized will help. Same rule as paper–if you aren’t teaching it, or haven’t used it, let it go, or put it on a flash drive and store that. If you have several variations of the same thing that you’ve changed for various units or change year to year, sort it and save it. Be sure to do 2 very important things with digital files. FIRST, give it a file name with words that you’d use to search like unit, skill, story title, etc. Some storage devices even let you add tags to help with these key words. SECOND, use folders to sort things. Since units can change, I have found that sorting by skill is most useful, unless it tied to a specific story unit I taught and used annually.

Finally, let’s get it organized and stored. Clear bins are always a bonus, and labeling items helps so much. The dollar discount stores can have some great deals, but be sure to check your big box stores and online places since sometimes you can buy in bulk and get a better deal with them–and some of your dollar discount stores don’t allow returns/refunds, so you don’t want to be stuck with extras!

Now, don’t you feel like you’ve accomplished so much? Don’t forget to take those after photos and share them with the hashtag #A2TClassroomPurge

Be sure to come back next week for Part 2 and check out how we can do the same thing at home (without making your family hate you) so you can be more efficient at home during the school year, too!

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! Comment below or find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1) or Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) and share your story or, even better, your before and after photos of your accomplishments.

Hurricane Prep Simplified – With the Planet and Life in Mind

July 1, 2021

I know, hurricane season started a month ago and many have already done their shopping. But some have not, and with a busy storm season already upon us here in the Southeastern U.S., many are just now getting around to it.

I like to be prepared for emergencies and natural disasters, but I also like to make choices that won’t hurt our environment or have a high impact on our family financially or in our living space. So many hurricane preparedness lists include disposable items that only fit that situation and, for many of us, they are things we don’t use in our daily life, so are an added expense that waste money if there isn’t an emergency.

Having lived in Florida for most of our lives, my husband and I have adapted many items in our kit to things we use regularly so they are cost effective, but also not wasteful or as damaging to the environment. I will break them down by the main categories of food, water, shelter, medical/first aid, and miscellaneous, then pets separately since that doesn’t apply to everyone. If you have ideas to add, I’d love for you to comment below and share them. Help our community out!

FOOD The experts tell us to ensure we have 3 days of food on hand to allow for emergency response teams to get into an area. My family has always made an effort to keep 30 days of non-perishable food on hand, which is great for sheltering in place, but may not be as realistic if you evacuate. We keep canned meats, fruits, and vegetables on hand, as well as dried pastas and canned meals like pasta cups, beanie weanies, and soups. We also keeps staples like rice, dehydrated potatoes, flour, sugar and cornmeal on hand. We keep a week’s worth of fresh produce on hand and a stocked freezer most of the year, as well, but if a storm is forecast for our area, we tend to eat a lot more of it, just in case we lose power. Should we need to evacuate, we have storage totes or reusable shopping bags to load them in that store away easily and can be used for other things during the off season. A grill can be very helpful for cooking and preparing meals since you can use some cooking pots and pans on an open flame. Be sure to keep your propane tank filled during the season, and a spare if you can. Helpful tip: if you are keeping can goods, be sure to have a manual can opener on hand. this can be a kitchen one with a knob, or something from a camping store called a P-38, it is inexpensive and small, plus can fit on a key chain. A fishing rod can also be helpful to keep on hand if you are near fishing areas since this can help supplement after a storm while awaiting things to reopen.

WATER The rule of thumb is one gallon of water per day, per person/pet to have on hand for drinking, then other water for use. Let’s talk about drinking water first. Many people resort to buying cases of bottled water. We don’t. We really don’t drink bottled water and opt for reusable insulated cups for our daily use, even on camping or boating days. We opted instead to purchase coolers that are well insulated and have a drinking spout on them. You can pick these up in all sizes and price ranges. Since we have family gatherings as well as go camping and boating, these get used regularly, but can store out of the way. This allows us to not have excess bottles on hand that we won’t use, or that will create extra debris in a post-storm situation when trash may not be running. Helpful tip: stock up on some inexpensive tupperware storage containers. If a storm is coming, you can fill these with water and place in your freezer and refrigerator to help insulate and maintain temperature, plus it gives extra water supply if you need more, or need for cooking. Fill those up a day before landfall, and your coolers within 12 hours of landfall. Now, let’s look at water for other uses. This can include cleaning dishes and cook surfaces, bathing and toilet flushing since electricity may be off and these won’t always function well. If you shelter in place, buckets, storage bins and bathtubs are great places to keep this water. To conserve how much we store, and may have to dump after, we tend to opt for baby wipes for bathing purposes and have spray bottles with cleaners and even dish soap made up for cleaning.

SHELTER If you have a solid home, it will hopefully hold up during the storm. Choose a room or area as your bugout room that has no windows and is close to the center of the home to keep you most secure. Stage your items like emergency supplies, bugout bags, lighting and sleeping bags here. Help secure it by hanging a blanket or standing up a mattress in front of access areas to protect from flying debris. If the storm is overnight or long lasting, it’s a great place to sleep. You can add additional items like window and door covers for added protection. These come in all price points and forms from roll shutters or storm-rated products, to plywood or corregated metal panels that store and are attached. It’s a good idea to already have your wood or metal panels precut and hardware in place to attach quickly. Do not use tape on your windows as protection, it won’t help. If you cannot block them from the outside, place large objects in front of it and stay away from windows during the storm. If you are not in a solid home, be sure to have an evacuation plan to leave the area or stay somewhere that is solid and safe. After a storm, you will need to have a plan in case your shelter sustains too much damage. Having tarps on hand for the roof, doors, windows or walls, as well as ropes, screws or nails to secure it will help short term. If you camp, having your tent handy can be a good option so you can shelter nearby. In the event of a power outage, you will need a few things to help. Candles are a fire hazard and a consumable we tend to not opt for. For indoor lighting, we get inexpensive oil lamps (home stores have these, but they are also easy to find at secondhand and antique stores, too) as well as a few good flashlights or lanterns, including a couple of headlamps. We stock up on batteries, but try to opt for rechargeable ones for sizes used often. A generator can be an expensive investment, but worthwhile since it can rotate between running a fan or your refrigerator. Be sure to have fuel and a proper extension cord for it, and be sure it is kept safely outdoors in an open and well ventilated area. Helpful tip: Don’t let your vehicles get less than half full during the season. You would much rather have a full tank if you must evacuate and get on the road than have to wait in line at a gas station or, worse, be stuck if they run out of fuel.

MEDICAL/FIRST AID Many of us keep basics like tylenol, band aids and ointment on hand. If you take prescriptions, be sure to keep a 30 day supply on hand, as well. Many home stores sell basic family first aid kits that can include additional items to help. Having these in a storage container you can find or grab to go easily can be a time saver, too. If you have medical conditions that require equipment that use electricity, be sure to know your locations that can support this and have equipment on hand to help power that. Many cars have 120 volt power supplies in them nowadays, which may not help during a storm, but can be helpful after a storm. Helpful tip: Having a 5 gallon bucket and some trash bags on hand can create a quick makeshift toilet in the event your shelter’s bathroom is out of order or damaged. Be sure to have these items (and toilet paper) in your kit, too.

MISCELLANEOUS This is the category I use to include things like changes of clothes, linens and toiletries, chargers for devices, weather radio, emergency paperwork, contact information, activities to do and cash. Having a grab bag with these things can be a huge time saver should you need to leave quickly. Be sure important papers like insurance documents and cards are someplace safe from damage and have a back up scanned digitally and stored on a cloud device or at a family or friends that lives out of the area can help maintain access to them should something happen. Chargers for your devices can also help. Many of us have vehicle chargers, and there are inexpensive battery packs, as well as portable solar panels, depending on your desired level of preparation and budget. A weather radio can be an inexpensive addition to your kit that can keep you informed and many have hand crank or solar chargers, as well as a built in flashlight and charge port for other devices. Having a deck of cards, coloring books or puzzles and board games can be good since it can distract small children and give the family something to do while riding out a storm or waiting for disaster relief to arrive. Cash is another thing people take for granted these days in our digital world, but there won’t be access to digital money if there is no power or internet, so cash can help for supplies like fuel, food and water, if you need them. A good rule of thumb is to have enough to fill your gas tank twice, find shelter for a few days, and $25 a day per person for food and water, for at least 3 days. For a family of four, this would be around $500.

PETS If you have pets, keeping them safe is important. Follow the same basics as you would for a person. Be sure to have food and water for at least 3 days, as well as any medications they take, or may need in an emergency. A pet first aid kit can be assembled, or included in your own since some things you will use are also pet friendly. check with your vet. Also be sure to have a safe carrier for them, and extra leashes for dogs and cats. Putting a shirt or blanket in the crate with your scent on it can help comfort them if they need to be secured. Ensure their collar is on and has your information, plus a microchip. Make sure you are aware of pet friendly shelters nearby in case you need to evacuate. Helpful tip: in case they escape somehow and slip a collar or the chip can’t be read, use a permanent marker to write your name and phone number on your pets belly to reunite them quickly.

This is not meant to be a complete and comprehensive list by any means, so I am sure there are elements I have left out. But I wanted to share some ideas that can help you save money on items you hope to never need, or share some items that do exist for emergencies. If you have other tips or ideas, please share them below in the comments.

You can support and encourage me by clicking the star to like this article and subscribing to my blog!

In the Kitchen for Taco Night – Recipe Blog

June 17, 2021

Yes, I know it’s not Tuesday the day this post is coming out, but two thoughts come to mind. One, you must have time to prepare and two, can’t every day be Taco Tuesday? In our house, it absolutely can.

This recipe has been modified over the years to become the favorite that it is now. I have both a pepper allergy and a wheat allergy, so this recipe is **GLUTEN FREE** for those of you also watching glutens, like me. The beauty of this recipe is that it can be adapted for small or large meals, or for crunchy or soft tacos or even nachos. I have premade the meat and frozen it before in both a serving dish and a freezer bag for camping.

Don’t worry, I won’t drag this out for you, I’ll get to the point, add in some pictures and tricks to help, as well as add in a savable/printable recipe card at the bottom. Prep takes about 20 minutes, bake for 7-10 minutes, then serve–which means this meal can be on the table in about 30 minutes, less if you prep the meat in advance. So let me share this delish dish with you!

First, let’s start with the ingredients you’ll need for shopping.

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef (or turkey)
  • 1 can of refried beans
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning mix
  • your choice of either crunchy shells (I recommend the stand and stuff), tortillas (if you choose flour tortillas, this is no longer gluten free), or tortilla chips (I recommend Tostito’s Scoops)
  • Toppings such as cheese, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, or anything else your family may like!

Next, let’s talk kitchen supplies.

  • frying pan
  • spatula
  • oven (conventional or toaster, either will work)
  • colander
  • measuring cup
  • can opener
  • a baking dish, a 9×13 works perfectly for a 10 pack of stand and stuff shells or soft tacos, or that size or a 9×9 dish for the nachos, depending on how many you are feeding
  • optional-cutting board and knife (for those veggies, if you don’t buy precut!)
  • optional-parchment paper or foil (For lining the baking dish and to make for easy clean up)

Finally, let’s get cooking!

Step 1: Brown the meat, drain, return to pan

Step 2: Add in the seasoning. The packet should have instructions, but a helpful tip I have is to premix the seasoning with water in a measuring cup so it mixes better with the meat. Pour over and stir in. Let simmer for 5 minutes

Step 3: Add the refried beans into the meat mixture. I find this works best by spooning in and mashing it a little, then stirring it together. Let it simmer for another 3-5 minutes until it is thick and all mixes well. I like the beans in this recipe for a few reasons–better flavor, beans are a great source of protein (some may argue better than meat for you, and for the environment), and it doubles the amount of the primary ingredient which is a HUGE cost saver if you are on a budget.

Step 4: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (or 160 Celsius)

Step 5: Prep your baking dish of choice (you do not need to spray or line it, but if you want easy clean up, I suggest lining with foil or parchment paper) and put in your taco shells or tortilla chips

Step 6: Spoon the meat/bean mixture into your shells or chips. I suggest using a tablespoon and I usually put in about 1 1/2 tbsp per taco shell. If you use the 10 pack of the stand and stuff shells, this will leave some left over for a quick nacho lunch the next couple of days, or for a nacho dinner another night this week–maybe even as an addition tonight!

Step 7: Add cheese

Step 8: Bake at 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) for 7-10 minutes, or until cheese is melted

Step 9: While that is baking, you can chop your veggies and set the table. If you are lucky enough to have a kitchen helper or two, they could be taking care of this while you are doing the other steps before, so you can have a few minutes to clean up and load the dishwasher to have less clean up after dinner. If someone else does that, then enjoy a few minutes to yourself!

Step 10: Serve and enjoy!

If you keep a recipe catalog, book, or file, Here’s a quick recap of the recipe for you!

Clicking the STAR button to like it or subscribe to my blog, so the latest post gets sent to your inbox every week.  Join the conversation in the community on Twitter at AddictedtoTeac1 or on Facebook in the GROUP Addicted to Teaching.

Live Like You’re on Vacation – Simplifying Your Wardrobe

June 10, 2021

As a busy mom, daughter and educator that can be a procrastinator, I am always looking for ways to get more done while doing less and to be more efficient, even if only a little bit. So, when seasons started to change and I knew I was teaching all summer again, but also working in vacations, I decided to make some changes to my wardrobe, and it has proven to be a huge success.

While I like the idea of being a fashionista, I tend to default to t-shirts and shorts, especially with working from home. But I do have zoom lessons and meetings, so still try to look professional.  I’ve always been intrigued by the minimalist capsule wardrobes or only a certain number of pieces, but never wanted to commit to that restricted a lifestyle. Living in Florida, fashion choices can be a challenge in the summer since it’s just so hot and humid. Also, with Covid restrictions lifting and travel plans returning, I wanted to create an easy style for whatever our plans were this summer, whether it was work, relaxing at home or travel. 

Last month while putting laundry away, I got this crazy idea to create a vacation wardrobe for the summer, and possibly continue this for each month/season.  My boundaries were making sure I had what I needed for professional work, house and yard work, exercise, date nights and relaxing at home or out and about. And it all had to fit into my suitcase if we went somewhere. I already do laundry every week to keep up with it, so I just made sure I had enough to get me through the week.

I started by pulling out my favorite items that I always grabbed to wear. Then I checked to make sure everything had a match and created a complete set, so the shirts had bottoms to go with, the skirt had tops, I had sweaters that went with everything since it can be cold in air-conditioned places—that sort of thing. Then I took everything else and folded it, placing off season items into a storage tote and in season items in an empty drawer in case I wanted to rotate something out.  I paired it down to 42 key items (insert Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference here, although this was not the targeted number originally!).  These items included shorts, pants, tops, dresses, sweaters, and swimsuits (socks and undergarments not included in the count).

I’ve been using this wardrobe for a month now and I absolutely love the simplicity of it.  I find myself wearing “cute” clothes more often instead of grabbing the trusty t-shirt I love. I have fewer decisions to make since each item has a coordinating item to default to and my closet isn’t so crowded, well, at least my side isn’t.  My husband’s is a whole other story!

While clearing my wardrobe has been a part of my ongoing minimalist journey, this decision wasn’t made for that reason, it was made to make my life simpler and to give me fewer decisions to think about. Reducing my mental clutter and decision fatigue has been a nice side effect of this change in lifestyle that has made my work and family life a lot less stressful and has inspired me to simplify other areas of my home in a similar “vacation house” style of having what I need and less decisions to make. It’s not always easy and something go into the donate box or holding box that come back out, but ultimately, I am free to worry about more important things, like where to travel to with my simplified wardrobe!

clicking the STAR button to like it or subscribe to my blog, so the latest post gets sent to your inbox every week.  Join the conversation in the community on Twitter at AddictedtoTeac1 or on Facebook in the GROUP Addicted to Teaching.

Wrapping Up the School Year From Home – Tips for Distance Learners

May 27, 2021

It won’t take long, but this quick checklist can save you time later!

It has been a long and crazy school year, whether you have been at home or on a campus. For those of you that have been students at home, I thought it might be helpful to share some Teacher Tips to help you wrap things up for next year, whether you will still be working from home or plan to return to campus.  Taking these steps will help you start next year off successfully!

CLEAR MATERIALS Whether you purchased, printed, borrowed, or created your materials, chances are that you have LOTS of things collected from the year.  Start by pulling out all materials and sorting through them. What needs returned? What needs submitted? What needs retained for records? What can go? Can any of it be sold, recycled, or passed on? Making these decisions makes the next step of clearing them a breeze. Recycle or trash anything you don’t need.  Post any items for sale or donation on your local community board or drop at a local donation spot.  Anything that needs returned or submitted can be taken in one trip.  Finally, anything you need to retain can be put into a file folder or binder and marked for the school year. This would also be a great time to deep clean the space since it won’t be in constant use.

INVENTORY SUPPLIES Unless you graduated, you will need some school supplies next year, whether schooling at home or back on campus.  Take inventory of what you have and make yourself a shopping list now to pin to your fridge or bulletin board.  Then, you can shop sales all summer or be ready for the back-to-school shopping before school starts.

TRANSITION WORKSTATION Unless you will be doing some sort of summer learning program at home or online, chances are you won’t need to keep the workstation set up all summer.  Use this time to store away anything that won’t be needed (clean it first, you’ll thank me!) and set up the space for gaming, online lessons, or crafting this summer. Repurposing the space will keep from wasting valuable real estate in your home and allow you to truly relax this summer. Plus, if it’s a shared workspace with someone else still working, it will be a help to them.  This is also a great time to talk about how the space will be used next school year and plan for any changes that may need made so you can begin planning or save up for them now.

TRANSCRIPTS Depending on what type of home school choice you made, it may be your responsibility to collect those transcripts and submit that documentation to your local home school/distance learning office yourself.  This is the time to take care of it and you don’t want to be surprised when you go to start the next grade that there is no record of completing this one. 

PLANS FOR NEXT SCHOOL YEAR Whether you are returning to campus, remaining distance learning, or transferring to another school, whether by promotion or change in venue, be sure all parties are aware and planning for it.  Talk to your student about the plans so they can be aware, or even part of the decision, and prepare for it now.  Talk to the school and be sure they know your intentions. If you are leaving one location for another, they will need to get records sent over and waiting until the start can delay entry or be a very long wait. If you are returning to on campus, you will want to make sure they have a seat for you and your records to start smoothly and be prepared.

I know you are just ready for summer to start so you can relax and have one less BIG thing to worry about but taking an extra day or two now to get these things resolved will make it a much more restful summer!  Enjoy that break, you deserve it!

Don’t forget to pass this on to others that it may help!  You can also support me by going to the blog page and clicking the STAR button to like it or subscribe to my blog, so the latest post gets sent to your inbox every week.  Join the conversation in the community on Twitter at AddictedtoTeac1 or on Facebook in the GROUP Addicted to Teaching.

Setting Up for Success – Plan a Weekly Date with Yourself

May 21, 2021

When it comes to getting things done, I have found there are 2 camps of people—the Procrastinator and the Prepper – although some people can fall somewhere in the middle.  Most of the time, I am somewhere in the middle. I will prep to an extent, but then fly by the seat of my pants and am in it for the adventure.  Work is something different for me, though, especially with teaching, and especially as a virtual teacher where I am pretty much in control of my schedule.

I have a variety of life experiences and many different types of supervisors that have helped me learn how to manage my time effectively, from making a list of 6 things to do each day, to making sure I have something to do at all times, even if the job isn’t busy.  In short, I adopted the work smarter, not harder mentality of working.

With those ideas in mind and struggling my first semester, I learned to set up a weekly date with myself to plan out my week.  I tried several different methods and days to accomplish this and have gone through so many types of planners. I have finally streamlined my process and have used it all school year and have found it to be easy to use, quick and not a dreaded task each week.

I chose to have my weekly date on Friday mornings and spend 30 minutes completing this task.  I sit down with my Outlook Calendar that is part of my work email, which saves me money and time since this is where my meetings and appointment calls are already plugged in—more about how to print that later.  First, I review my week so far and see what I still need to accomplish that day. If there’s anything I can’t fit in that isn’t time sensitive, I just move it to the next week. Then, I start planning the week.  I find it helps to create recurring tasks that I know I have every week to do—grading, email, reports, even my workouts and lunch time is plugged in since I will work straight through!  I start with fixed time things like appointments from my personal calendar, times I meet with my students and classes, training sessions, meetings, etc.  Next, I adjust any recurring tasks that may overlap or are flexible. Then, I look for gaps since some days are slower than others and can plug in projects or personal development tasks, I have on a backburner that I want to tackle. I do have blocks of time each week just for personal development and projects so I can continuously focus on refining my craft.  Finally, I set work hours for each day and put them in the calendar, too. My hours vary from day to day since I have some early schools, late parent calls, my schools are on block schedules, so the time of classes changes every other day, so I flex my time.

a screenshot of what the printout will look like

Now, I am ready to print my schedule since I like to have a checklist.  I simply choose the print option for my Outlook Calendar (Ctrl + P is the fastest way) and choose the weekly agenda style. Once printed, I like to highlight the day and hours I am working, then highlight the fixed appointments I can’t miss.  I also white out the weekend days to create a notes section so as I think of tasks for next week or future project/personal development ideas, I can jot them down and address them on Friday and avoid getting lost in distraction.

The benefits of having this weekly date with yourself is helping to find a balance of your work and personal life.  I do NOT work weekends and rarely work more than my 8-hour day unless I choose to.  Plus, I only have to think about it one time, then it’s just checking things off or adding in scheduled calls to a block I already have set aside.  This means I have less distractions and more time on task during my week, plus I can anticipate any gaps or conflicts by merging my work and personal calendars.  Since I am not a morning person, this helps me start my day on task and organized, and I can eat that frog right away!  (Not familiar with the Eat the Frog concept?  Check out the blog post from last year here.)

A couple of other things I do along with this include filing that calendar page away in a folder just in case I ever have to show my work hours and tasks. Also, I reset my workspace daily by clearing my desk, and twice per week I clean my office and keep it decluttered since a busy day can make a huge mess!

In reflection, which of these practices do you already use?  Which could you see yourself using?  Do you still have questions or need more help? No problem!  Comment below or find me on Twitter @AddictedtoTeac1 and in Facebook I have a group called Addicted to Teaching. I’d love to chat more and help you out!

Did you find this article helpful? Consider supporting me by donating via PayPal, the donate button is located right here on my web page!

My Favorite Lesson to Teach – The End of Year “Letter to My Future Self”

May 13, 2021

Throughout the year, I always try to embed learning opportunities for my students to grow as a person or reflect on who they used to be.  At the end of the school year, it can get so busy and we need mini-lessons that can take one day here or there to fill in.  I started this one my very first year and, while I have adapted it for the grade I am teaching, or even used it for a beginning of year lesson, I have always fallen back on it. 

It’s pretty simple really, I have the students write a letter to their future self.  For my 6th graders, I would have them write it to themselves going into high school, then I would collect them and seal them up, with a promise to find them and deliver it as they were headed to high school. I live in an area where students move frequently, so this did prove challenging.  I later adapted it to seal it after adding a personal note to it, then returning it with a “Do not Open Until” instruction.  For my 8th graders, it was upon graduation.  So this time of year is exciting since I have students do this as an activity, and I have former students opening theirs and reflecting—and many reaching out to me.

So what do they write about? I do make a plan sheet for them to capture who they are now—favorite music, style, books, TV shows, best friends (boy/girlfriends), foods, places, goals and dreams both personal and professional, what they think they will be doing and a bit of advice for their future selves that they hope they don’t lose focus of through high school.

I collect them all and give a participation grade, but I also add a personal note to it as a motivator, a funny story or memory, or some personal touch.  Then I seal it up and tell them to stash it away or give to a parent. Many pin it on a mirror or wall, tuck it in their yearbook, or give it to mom or dad to hold onto until graduation.  Some open it right away, they can’t wait 4 years.  Some forget about it or lose it.  But several keep them and many reach out to me.  I love it! 

Because so many students have stayed in touch, courtesy of social media or their parents being or becoming friends of mine, I am able to get a reminder out to some of them and they spread the word. It is my favorite lesson every year and I always look forward to teaching it.  I think it is what I miss most about being in the classroom, too.

It can be fun to build those memories, strengthen those bonds and give them something to reflect on when they reach this milestone.  Keep in mind, you don’t have to add a personal note!  This can also be adapted to a first day of school lesson and they open on the last day, or so many other variations. 

If you are looking for an activity for the end of the year, I encourage you to give it a try.

Teacher Appreciation Week – From the Other Side (and about Delta Kappa Gamma)

May 6, 2021

I’ve been an educator for 14 years, doing the hard work and getting that week of treats and sweet thoughts from our PTA, administrators, students and community organizations and restaurants that come with Teacher Appreciation Week. This year, though, with being a virtual teacher, I was able to be on the other side and do something for the teachers of our community through my local teacher organization, Delta Kappa Gamma.

Our organization is a blend of teachers, coaches, administrators and retired educators, and our local chapter is no different. Which means that we have several people with the task, the time, or both of planning rewards for our teachers, and we like to sponsor a couple of schools for at least one day with breakfast or treats. 

This year, because of how my schedule worked as a virtual teacher, I was able to carve out time to volunteer at one of the schools and be on the giving side and take on some of that responsibility from our veteran members that are enjoying retirement and travel. It was nice to chat with other teachers, tell them they were appreciated, listen to their stories, and talk about our organization, for those that were interested in it.  As an educator, most of us are used to doing the talking, and I am no different, so it was nice to be in the listening seat and let others share.  If you ever get a chance to volunteer for something like this, I highly recommend it.

As for our organization, Delta Kappa Gamma, we are always looking for Professional Woman Educators (and aspiring ones in school for education, or in another field but tasked with educating and training!). We are an international organization with chapters all over the world. We support not only educators, but each chapter takes on additional focuses within their community and the education system to support. We also attend trainings, conferences and gather for meetings and social events to continue to build our bond as friends.  This organization was founded in 1929 by 12 women who wanted to help women in the profession at all levels be better prepared.

If you are an educator, in the classroom or even retired, and interested in learning more, go to the organization’s website at https://www.dkg.org/ . You can click on ABOUT US to find a local chapter to visit and learn more before committing to join, or if you are local, reach out to me and I will help you with our chapter or another within our District.  We would love to have you!

“And the Award Goes To…” Using Testing Season as a Growth Mindset Life Lesson for Students

April 29, 2021

Testing season is upon us, and that can be stressful for both student and educator.  But do you know what other events are big this time of year? Award shows!  Several years ago, I noticed how bad my students’ test anxiety was getting and wanted to shift their mindset. While I was thinking about it one evening, a commercial for some awards show came on and it showed someone’s acceptance speech, talking about all the hardships they overcame, and it inspired me.  This could be a great lesson for my students!

I was a Reading/ELA teacher, so did have to work it to “fit the curriculum”, but it wasn’t too much work and the kids really enjoyed it.  Here’s how I broke it down for a lesson:

STEP ONE: Have the kids word splash in groups or on the front board 2 separate ideas—one, what they are nervous about with testing and two—test strategies and tips for doing well.  This lets them see that their fears and concerns are probably the same as others and get ideas from others about ways to deal with it.

STEP TWO: Have them work in small groups/collaborative pairs to think of what they can do to lessen the stress and be prepared to overcome those things. Streamlining the word splash to things that relate to them helps focus their ideas.

STEP THREE: Have them independently brainstorm where they started from in their skill sets throughout school and the year, personal challenges they’ve faced that may have made it challenging, what they as an individual think success will look like and how they will feel when they reach their goal.  And tell them to remember those shout outs to people that supported them (ahem—YOU!) Encourage them to set more than one goal to create multiple levels of success opportunities.

STEP FOUR:  Show some of the most inspirational, moving, and, of course, school and age appropriate, speeches you can find online, just in case some aren’t familiar with award shows or don’t recall how they are done.

STEP FIVE: Have them write an acceptance speech!  Then they can record a Flipgrid video to post to the class board for you to watch and reply to! (If you aren’t familiar with Flipgrid, research HERE to find out if it may be a good fit for you). If you don’t use Flipgrid, they can use their cell phones or class computer to record and send an MP4 file, or you can have a camera set up in a corner for recording. I would avoid having them present in front of the class since some can have some pretty personal fears and knowing others won’t know might make them more inclined to share if they won’t be judged. Be sure to tell them only YOU will see it, unless they choose to share. A bonus could be to have them do it dressed up at home, or with a podium or fancy background in the classroom to jazz it up!

Be sure you give feedback, thanking them for sharing and supporting their ideas to work through it. Encourage them to save the video and watch it the day before testing to reassure them.

I love this approach since it creates a growth mindset and allows them some self-reflection.  Have data, old assignments, test scores, etc., and their word splashes from brainstorming in step 1 handy to help guide them since some may not think that big or may not be very growth-minded and may need guidance.

Most importantly, tell them that it is okay if they fall short of their goals. Share with them times things didn’t work out for you. Share stories of others you know (teachers, friends, former students, or even famous people) without using names of experiences that didn’t turn out how they expected, but they went on to find success.

We, as educators, know that this is one day and may not show their best ability if it is an off day, but the stress of how high stakes these tests can be to our career and their future can distract us from what is the most important thing—that they show up, show what they have learned and give their best effort. Remind them of this often and you will be doing a huge favor for their future self!

Going Green in Your Classroom – Earth Day Inspired Ideas (I’ve used these!)

April 22, 2021

My favorite Earth Day meme I’ve been sharing for years on Social Media. No idea who gets photo credit, but they rock!

This week, we will celebrate Earth Day, an annual event started in 1970 to inspire people to clean up our planet and make conscientious decisions in our everyday life. We see community celebrations, clean ups and crafts dedicated to this, but how can you apply this mindset to your classroom’s everyday practices.  Here are some ideas that I have tried out or were inspired by others.

Recycling bins. I’d be missing an opportunity here if I didn’t remind you to recycle in your classroom. Many communities have recycling pick up and can get bins for your classrooms and do pick ups at your school.  This will take some habit reformation since many students may use it as a trash can, or may not know what goes in it, so be thoughtful about your student population as you use this. 

Recycling markers, mechanical pencils, pens, and highlighters. There are many places that offer this service for *FREE*. Crayola allows you to ship boxes of dried markers directly to them for recycling. It is currently halted due to Coronavirus but subscribe or check in regularly to the Crayola Colorcycle site for it resuming. Staples also offers this service, so check with your local store to see how they are collecting them right now.

Create New Crayons from Old Ones. This is such a fun activity to do and a great use for old crayons!  Of course, you can find recycling programs for crayons, like those for markers, but in classrooms that go through crayons quickly, it’s much more fun to make your own! Just remove wrappers, cut into small pieces, and drop them into a muffin tin and bake in the oven until melted. Let them cool completely then pop them out!  And it’s okay if you don’t have a lot of one color, blended colors make for interesting combinations.

Change your lighting. If you are lucky enough to have windows, why not open those blinds and use natural light?  Not all lessons need reading light and fluorescents can be harsh on the eyes and those bulbs are terrible in the landfill!  You can also opt for LED lamps strategically placed around your room, so they use less electricity and last longer.  Plus, they create a more comfortable atmosphere, making your students feel at home.

Unplug that Tech cart.  If you have a technology cart for laptops or iPads, don’t leave it plugged in all the time.  You can plug it in after they are used to recharge, then unplug it until they all need charged again.  Same for your desktop or work computers.  It can be helpful to use a power strip for these so you can just flip a switch or, check your cart—some have a switch to turn off the power to the cart for this very reason.

Neglect the copier. Do you really need to make a copy for everyone, or will a class set work?  Does it need to be a full sheet, or can you make it a half or quarter sheet and cut it? 

Alternatives to copies.  Maybe your activity doesn’t need a copy at all, and you can use chalk or dry erase—a large one in the classroom, or small personal ones.  Your local home improvement store has dry erase and chalk boards to purchase.  Some of them can cut them into the 25-30 boards you need, although some are getting away from it, so you may need to do this yourself or enlist the help of someone you know that has tools.  Not an option? No problem!  Get sheet protectors and plain paper and DIY a set for yourself!  The benefit of this method is that you can drop a marker and a scrap of cloth (recycle that t-shirt, towel, or leftover fabric!) and now it’s all set for use.

Simplified supplies. If you plan well, you can get buy with not needing a ton of supplies in your classroom by using recycled items that are collected or saved, or by reusing the same item in a variety of ways. This will not only stretch your supply budget since you can order in bulk, but it will cut down on how much you must store, clean and inventory—and pack at the end of every year!

Outdoor classroom. Whether your school has an outdoor seating area or not, taking the class outside can be great for them, and for shutting down your classroom. Do give your students a heads’ up so they can bring a towel, blanket, or folding chair, in case this is an issue for them. I loved doing journaling days outside since it cut down distractions and allowed them to separate from each other to think. They loved it so much, they asked for the option anytime it was an independent/partner workday, so many days my classroom was open to both.  Just be sure your administration knows your location and supports the idea with safety protocols.

Earth friendly cleaning. Many of us were routinely wiping down our classrooms pre-Covid, but now we do it even more.  While those bleach wipes can be convenient, they are terrible for landfills.  There are many plant-based cleaning products or DIY recipes all over the internet that you could find and keep in a spray bottle.  Then, just use old t-shirts, towels, or rags for cleaning and you can wash and reuse them. If you don’t have any, don’t buy new—go to your local secondhand store and repurpose towels, rags, or t-shirts from there!

There are plenty of other things you can do, such as starting a garden or compost pile at school, crafts from recycled materials (have you seen the buildings they have made from 2-liter bottles?! Check out some of those HERE. You don’t have to go big and do everything but do what you can.  Not only will it make a difference for the planet, but you’ll be inspiring future generations by example and create many teachable moments in your room.

If you are looking for craft ideas with your kids or students, here a link to 30 Crafts and Activities Using Upcycled Materials are the ones my son and I are currently working through this month!

I’d love to see pictures or hear about your classroom applications! Like and comment below or find me on Twitter @addictedtoteac1 or on Facebook in the group Addicted to Teaching.