Creating an Office from a Closet

A work space doesn’t need to be large, just a functional one. This closet worked perfectly.

September 7, 2019

Like most moms, I seldom prioritize my own needs over those of my family’s until I reach a breaking point.  Due to unplanned circumstances, our family ended up moving into a home that was twice the size of what we were living in and my mom moved in with us.  It worked out well in that we had a game room for our boys to have their computer/video games and toys, a living and family room, and another bonus office.  But when my husband started a new job working from home, our “shared” office space became a challenge since he makes a lot of phone calls and I write and make videos.  I tried using various places around the house, but there was always some kind of distraction, or sound and light issues.  I loved filming outside, but between crazy Florida weather or the noises of a busy suburban neighborhood, sometimes it would take an hour to get a decent 15-20-minute video.  My frustration levels were at an all-time high.

I was talking with—okay venting to—my adult son about the situation and my frustration.  He pointed out that we had a large hallway walk in closet that was just a drop spot for stuff that could go other places and that it was a nice size for a small office/studio area. I saw the potential in his vision and set to work in relocating and planning the space.

The first task was to clear the closet out and find a home for everything.  The winter coats and suitcases were able to fit in our separate closets, the pantry items and card tables were able to find a home in the laundry room, and the donation drop box items went to the donation center and we just found a smaller box and another spot to put stuff we clear out.

Once that was done, I took measurements and started scanning the web and Pinterest to get a vision for what I wanted.  A home office/recording studio wasn’t something I found readily available, but by pulling ideas from larger scale set ups of each, as well as elements and color schemes that appealed to me, I was able to create an idea of what I wanted.  I made a list of items I would need: a desk, a rug to go over the hard surface floor, storage, sound paneling, lighting, office materials and decorations.  The next step was creating a budget and finding items that would fit that budget.  I did a lot of online comparison shopping and store wandering before finding what I was looking for on Amazon and at Lowe’s, Wal-Mart and Target and having a realistic idea of costs.  I also scavenged the house and my own stash of supplies and décor in my classroom for the little touches that could save me money.  I settled on a budget of $1000, hoping desperately for it to be less since this was all that was in my rainy-day fund.  Here’s a breakdown of what I purchased and spent.  I am happy to report I was WAY under budge and able to keep money in my rainy-day fund for another day!

  • Paint Lowes $25.18
  •                 Paint color from Lowe’s HGTV Home/Sherwin Williams Web Gray SW7075 (flat)
  • Rug Target $59.49
  • Desk Amazon $106.99
  • Storage 6 cube organizers Wal-Mart $28.24 each x 2 ($56.48)
  • Storage boxes Target $4.99 each x 6 ($29.94)
  • Cork boards Target $11.39 each x 2 ($22.78)
  • Acoustic panels  Amazon 3 12 packs $16.90 ($50.70)
  • Letters  Amazon 4” & 2” $21.98
  • Borders  Amazon $21.13
  • Backing (gift wrap) Hobby Lobby $4.99
  • Desk lamp  Target $14.99
  • Floor lamp already owned
  • Dog bed Pet Supermarket $13.99
  • Stapler/Tape dispenser $7.59 & 4.99 ($12.58)
  • Camcorder/cell phone camera—gift/already owned
  • Decorations—already owned
  • Odds and ends (glue, rollers, etc. $40-50 ish)
  • Light ring with phone mount $39.99
  • TOTAL costs: $531.21

My first step was to paint the room a fantastic grey color I found after going cross-eyed with colors and samples and I settled on one I found at Lowe’s called HGTV Home/Sherwin Williams Web Gray SW7075 (flat).  My husband, the photographer, applauded my choice for being an 18% grey that works well on film.  Hurray for luck being on my side. 

The next step was ordering furniture and getting it assembled and in place.  I moved things around several times while trying to find a cohesive workspace that would record well.  Then, I shopped for lighting and sound paneling and worked at getting that installed.  That was a bit of a challenge as I didn’t want to ruin the walls by gluing them directly on.  I ended up hot gluing them onto the cardboard packaging it shipped in and affixing that to the wall with picture hooks, hot glue, or anchors (on the ceiling panels).  The sound absorption has proven to be a challenge as I didn’t want a completely soundproof cave, nor did I want a ton of dust collecting material since I have a severe dust allergy, so I needed the surfaces to be relatively easy to clean. I found a rug that could be steam cleaned and also strategically placed throw blankets on a shelf and hanging on the door when needed to help dampen the sound a bit.  Next, I played with the lighting and, while I found some great light boxes on Amazon, they proved to be too large for the space, so I opted to go with a light ring camera mount along with the lamps and overhead light that was in the space.  It isn’t perfect, but it works for what I needed and with my budget.  Finally, I scavenged for accessories that would personalize the space. 

I added a couple of bulletin boards, one of which became my dream board with pictures to inspire me and remind me of what I am working towards.  I also collected up artwork I had created at various painting parties and other mementos that would make me smile.  I also added a dog bed into the corner since our pups like to be wherever we are working.

My “mom cave” was a fantastic place for me to work and be inspired, as well as be left alone when I need to record or concentrate on work and I don’t have to stop the rest of the family from what they are doing or wait for the weather to cooperate.  I’m sure I will still create videos in other spaces, but it’s nice to have a go to place of my own, and one that was under budget!

Life update:  as this project has been in the works, life has continued to happen.  If your life is like mine, it happens at the speed of light and this summer has been twice that.  Shortly after getting the studio office set up, a great opportunity to work from home came up and I jumped on it.  Unfortunately, the closet studio was no longer the best space for working 8-10 hours a day, plus it was in a main thoroughfare in the house, so we came up with a new plan. 

Since my husband and I both work from home, we decided to commandeer the boys’ game room since it was larger and away from the family area so we can work and they can live at the same time, let our oldest have the old office and the closet studio became the toy room.  So, we spent a weekend swapping everything around and getting reset, but it is working out fantastically.  We have been able to make the space a shareable office that can double as a studio and, with the addition of a futon, it has actually made a great spot for the boys to come and sit and share their day with me when they get home while I take a break from work.  I know it will probably change again, but for now, it is inspiring and comfortable and exactly what we need to be productive.

The ABC’s of Communication

Sonya Barnes August 25, 2019

Have you ever travelled someplace that you didn’t know the language?  I have and it can be a very intimidating experience.  I recall times of hand gestures, broken words from the language I do know, and looking for another language we may coincidentally know to try and communicate, only for something to have been “lost in translation”.  Yet, even when speaking the same language, we often have communication issues for a variety of reasons.  That can lead to lost time, lost money and lost opportunity, not to mention the frustration from the experience.

Communicating with others is a key to being successful in any endeavor.  I have been blessed to have many leaders in my life and careers to teach me ways to cut down on miscommunication and increase successful outcomes when communicating with others.  When I taught leadership to middle schoolers, I broke it down into these three basic principles to make it easy to remember and execute and many of them found themselves going from being terrified to talk to a crowd to commanding the attention of those they were speaking on front of.  By knowing what and how they were going to share an idea, their confidence got a boost, making the information they shared that much stronger.  So, I thought I’d share these ideas with you here since many people have a fear of talking to others, even if they do so on a regular basis.  These can be applied to any situation whether it is deciding lunch plans or saving the world from impending doom.  So, let me break it down for you.

Articulation   In its simplest definition, speaking in a way that is fluent and coherent.  When you are speaking, whether it is to one or one thousand, young or old, you want to make sure your message is being shared in a way they will understand.  Before you speak or write, it can be a good idea to jot down your ideas you want to speak about and outline a few key words you want to share with your audience.  Again, be sure you are using language they will understand—don’t use fancy technical words if it is not an experienced worker.  On the other hand, don’t oversimplify what you are saying either.  New people will need to learn terminology, so just be sure it is used in a way that can be figured out or that you explain it somehow.

Brevity   Keep it short, sweet and to the point.  By nature, we love to tell stories and share personal experiences to help our audience understand what we mean.  Sometimes we may have an audience that appears confused or disengaged and we find ourselves continuing to talk, thinking it is due to lack of understanding.  A best practice to follow is to break it into steps, give an example, have a handout or checklist if it is more than three steps, and then be available for further explanation after the meeting or during the process to help those that may need more or don’t know what questions they have until they begin the process.  Many times, a presenter can do a great job activating an idea and building engagement and momentum, but drain the excitement by holding a meeting too long and not letting those folks get going. You want those folks to get going as soon as possible since they will help your team reach a goal.

Clarity   It is important to be clear about what you mean.  I have sat in meetings that the speaker never really stated the point of the meeting or training and we had to ask or guess at the end.  That meant that nearly everything we heard and learned during that training was lost and had to be asked about or retaught later.  This was a waste of everyone’s time and can easily be avoided by bringing things back to your main point regularly, especially if it is new.

These steps can be implemented in all aspects of life, whether it is a conversation with someone, teaching someone a new task or practicing tasks that have already been taught, or even persuading an audience to purchase or choose a product.  However, and with whomever, you are communicating, if you add these three principles into your pre-planning, you will find yourself becoming much more successful at it and, by extension, at ease with speaking to people because it will become less stressful.  Happy communicating!

Time saver Tip for Busy People: Create a Uniform!

August 17, 2019

If you ask most people, they hate the idea of uniforms.  It’s expensive and it doesn’t allow for individuality or personal expression are a few of the reasons given.  But, if you stop and think about it, uniformity is quite practical.  Many powerful world leaders say that they have adopted a uniform attire and only rotate through a few different colors or styles to cut down on the amount of micro-decisions they must make in a day, leaving their brain available for making more significant decisions.  Minimalism, in its most extreme form, has a few different premises about a small wardrobe such as capsule wardrobes, project 333 or the 100-item wardrobe, to name a few.  While these may be a good fit for some folks to follow, the fashionistas—or those of us that fall somewhere in the middle—may not be ready to go to that extreme but can still create a basic uniform if their career field doesn’t dictate one.  Check out some of these ideas that I have tried over the years and see if they fit your style or inspire you to come up with a new method.

The paired wardrobe  In this uniform concept, you marry all your clothing tops and bottoms as a set and hang them together on the same hangar.  This could even be taken to the level of hanging a necklace, scarf or other accessories to compliment it.  This will also allow you to take inventory of your clothing to make sure that everything is wearable and see if there are any holes in your wardrobe that may require a shopping trip.  When you need to get ready, you simply grab the hangar and get dressed with very little thought required.

The cataloged wardrobe When I was growing up, this was mom’s method of writing everything in her wardrobe in a notebook and tracking what she wore and when.  This allowed her to avoid wearing the same things repeatedly and ensure her wardrobe got a proper rotation.  To modernize this concept, it could be digitized.  A quick Google search tells me that there are several apps to choose from, but I haven’t tried any so will avoid steering you in the wrong direction.  If you have used one, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

The uniform wardrobe  If you work someplace that has access to polos or work monogram attire, this is a great option for business casual work environment.  This is the wardrobe I follow, and I have a handful of work logo polo shirts that I pair with cargo pants or khaki pants, or jeans if it’s a dress down day.  If your company doesn’t have this access, but they do have a logo you could get permission to use, there are several websites you can use to design and order your own or a local embroidery shop or seamstress can help you out.  I have used Vista Print for polos for an organization and a local screen printer for shirts for a club and uniforms for a team. The quality of both online and local were fantastic.  Sometimes they can give a better rate the more you buy, so talk to coworkers before ordering to see if they are interested.  For websites and local shirt shops, you can go online to their website or a shirt design site and design your shirt by uploading the logo and get a picture of it to share.

The capsule wardrobe This wardrobe rotates by season but follows the fundamental idea of having a handful of interchangeable pieces that can mix and match for a variety of looks and styles.  I’ve used this in the past and love it for travel, but I quickly got bored with it for work.  I love that I don’t need a lot of pieces and can create a variety of looks by changing which items I pair together.

While there are many valid arguments to not wearing a uniform, I am still an advocate for them.  I am not a morning person and try to capitalize on every spare minute of sleep unless I am motivated to get up for a workout.  Either way, I don’t leave myself much time for planning.  I also prefer to dress for comfort rather than style, but I still need to look professional.  I spent countless mornings stressing over what to wear, and it set a tone of haste and frustration for my day.  When I started exploring a minimalist lifestyle, I had a closet jammed with so many clothes and knew that the 100 item wardrobe or the Project 333 would not be a good place to start and I’d have to eliminate too much or find storage for unused items for a capsule wardrobe.  Eliminating items I didn’t love and creating a uniform really made things less stressful, allowing me to easily dress for success with minimal frustration to start my day.  I also used the backwards hangar method to get an idea of what items I wore and didn’t wear, which made cleaning out at the end of the season a snap.  Helpful tip when clearing items out:  check with the local schools to see if any items could be used in their uniform closet.  Jeans, khaki, black and navy pants fit almost every school’s uniforms, dresses and dress clothing can be useful for concerts, recitals or competitions, and some will face a devastating loss and need to rebuild a wardrobe.  Shoes that are gently worn can always find a home there, as well.

As simple as this seems, I was pleasantly surprised at how much less stressful my day was when I didn’t have to make these decisions.  Since I work with teenagers that have to wear a uniform to school, this also made the conversations easier to have since I was modeling the expectation I had with them—I was essentially wearing the same uniform they were, so their arguments were lost on me.  And when it did come up in conversation, it was a great opportunity to share the idea that it simplified their decisions to be made in a day and reduced a bit of stress in their life.  Some agreed, but some still longed for the days of high school to choose their own clothing.  Although more than one has reached out to tell me that they missed uniforms once going on to high school and careers because it was another decision to make in a day.

Whatever you decide to do with your wardrobe, at least take this advice—go through and clean out your clothing when the seasons change, removing damaged items and either fixing or disposing of them, and make sure your closet is filled with clothes that make you feel comfortable and happy.  Every occupation has its stressors and they are much more manageable when you are not distracted by poorly fitted or uncomfortable clothing.  Not to mention, it’s a great opportunity to see if you need to plan a shopping excursion!

A Compassion Corner in the Classroom

Sonya Barnes                                                                                                         August 9, 2019

Our world today is filled with people struggling.  Our classrooms will also reflect that with students facing many struggles in their lives—some privately, some publicly.  Some of our students will have been taught how to help others, some will know what it is what they want to have people do to help them and will do those things for others, and some will have no model for what it looks like to be compassionate to others.  Education today is full of demands, and one of those is to help meet the social and emotional needs of the kids that are in our presence.  It can seem like a daunting task—something else to have to add to our to do list.  But it doesn’t have to be complicated, or even forced.  Try a Compassion Corner in your classroom.

Many times, when events happen in society such as holidays or community or family events, we may feel called to action and do an activity in our classroom.  But people need help, love and compassion every day and in many ways.  By having a Compassion Corner set up in your classroom, you can allow for that to flow from your kids at any time without prompting.  With regular, unscripted access, they will be able to act when they feel compelled and will learn how rewarding it can be for others.

It doesn’t need to be anything fancy.  It can be a variety of paper, glue, scissors, crayons, markers, stickers, etc., and then drop boxes (think shoeboxes with slots in the top of them) for the designated recipients.  A few guidelines hanging above them and some class procedures of when and how to use the station, such as if they finish an assignment early or if they need a brain break, and you just let it go.  At predetermined times, you can go and empty the boxes and get them to the recipients.  I do suggest that you have them sign only a first name for privacy reasons, especially it they will be going to unknown recipients.

So, who can be recipients of your classroom’s compassion corner?  Well, there are always veterans deployed or ill in military hospitals that can use cheering up and most people are near a military base or guard unit, a VFW, American Legion or Daughters of the American Revolution chapter. First responders such as law enforcement officers, EMT’s and Firefighters work long hours away from their families, as well.  Nursing homes often have folks that don’t see their families often and would love their day brightened by a picture or card.  Homeless shelters are in many areas and may like to have a nice card or drawing to hang or distribute, some school districts even have a department devoted to helping them and distributing items in need—in our district it is called the Hearth Project.  There are foster children and children’s hospitals  in many major cities.  If you want to think more locally, think of other children or employees in the school that could benefit from being told they are appreciated or awesome.  Sadly, there are natural disasters all over the world and a note or card could help give them hope.  There is really no limit other than your own heart and the time you may have to distribute them.

You don’t have to start big; you could choose one or two organizations to focus on for the year or for the term.  But imagine the life lessons gained for the kids to have a chance to brighten someone’s day anonymously for absolutely nothing in return.  Imagine the change in their day when they can take a moment away from their own troubles or from a challenging assignment and be important to someone else.  Imagine the impact on the world by teaching children to have a heart for doing for others.  What a difference we can make.

Turning a Worksheet into an Activity

Sonya Barnes August 8, 2019

It doesn’t take much to go from worksheet to an activity that kids will enjoy and reach their learning objectives!

Teachers are a resourceful being.  To make a pop reference, we become as good at reinventing our repertoire as Prince did at reinventing himself throughout his career.  We have many things we have continued to use without really thinking about changing them up.  One of those go-to items could be a stash or worksheets you rely on to make copies and grade because you know it is a skillset your kids need.  But have you ever given thought to reinventing them?

In my previous article about beginning of year activities, I mentioned turning some of your ice breakers into activities to do with the kids, but you can use this premise for any worksheet that you have.  Converting it into an activity may take you a little time on prep, but, if done right, it can be laminated and reused throughout your school year as a rotation or a “done” activity to keep them proficient, as well as using it year after year.  So, let me walk you through the process of converting that worksheet.

Step 1: choose your worksheet This could be something new from a search online or a book you just purchased, or something you have had for ages that is falling apart or has been copied one too many times and needs to be revived. Maybe it’s an identify the part of speech, a scientific classification, an internet suffix identification, or a math symbol meaning, capitals and states/countries, or tools for the art or shop class.  Be sure it is one that will have a clear answer for each question.

Step 2: convert it to a new document The easiest and quickest way I have found to do this is to use a program like Word or Pages and insert tables. Excel is great for creating boxes in columns or rows, but isn’t as user friendly for inserting pictures or graphics and alternating text fonts like Word or Pages will be.  Put the text into the boxes for each question, answer, or part they will match.  I like to align my correct answers all next to each other to make it easier when I use my key.  You can enlarge and change the font to make it easy to read and visually appealing.  If you are tech savvy or have the time, adding graphics can be a nice touch, but it is not a necessity.  I also dedicate a box to a directions for use card and an inventory list, if needed, so it explains what to do and the parts needed for my students that do better with written instructions.  To help myself keep track, I will also try to label it with the standard or skill so that I can find it quickly.

Step 3: print/copy/laminate Decide how many sets you need to create based on whether this will be independent, collaborative or a station/center activity and print/copy that many sets PLUS 2—a fully assembled set for you as a key and a cut up set for you as a demo.  Then get these laminated so that they will last you for many years and uses.  Be sure you do this well in advance to allow time for your laminating person to complete them as many schools have only one person responsible for this task and it can be time consuming.

a paper cutter and some paper clips turns these into a student friendly manipulative

Step 4: cutting and prepping as sets If you have volunteers, this is a great thing to enlist them for, especially since this task doesn’t have to be done in the classroom.  Don’t forget to keep one set whole to use as your key (you can use a dry erase marker to make notes or match answers, if need be. Cut your items into sets and bundle them.  This could be done in a variety of ways, but I prefer clasped envelopes or Ziplock bags so that I can label them, and they are easiest to keep everything together in.  I also suggest taking a permanent marker and numbering the sets and pieces.  Finally, I will tape the directions card and inventory list to the front of the envelope or inside the Ziplock bag (facing out, of course).  Several of my older sets, I just put the directions and inventory in with the cards, but it gets mixed in with the others at clean up and the next user may not find it right away.

An envelope makes an easy storage device and gives a place to attach instructions if it will be an independent activity

Step 5: using the sets  Now that you have them, they can be used as a hook, an assessment, a practice activity, a review activity, or anything in between.  If you use stations or centers, this can be an activity they complete together or independently.  Once we have used them in our main lesson and moved on from a standard, I have a drawer I keep them in and my students that finish early know that this is a place they can go and find something to do while others work.  These also make great activities for early release days or days when you may have a test or lesson that doesn’t take the entire block and you need a small filler activity.

Worksheets can be a valuable resource in checking a student’s mastery level of skill and there is nothing wrong with using them.  But, in my experience, I don’t always need a 30 minute long task that I need to then grade to see if they are ready to move on and converting it to an activity allows me to do this in 10 minutes before going on to a next level or a real world project or task that allows them to apply the skill for true mastery.  If you aren’t sure where to get started, there are many of these available online that you could download (skip steps 1-2) and jump straight to steps 3-5 to get started.  You also don’t always have to laminate them if you are short on time.  If you have older kids, you could hand them out whole and allow them to cut them, but, in my experience, cutting and assembling the sets will burn an entire class period that I would rather they spent working on the skill.

I’d love to hear which activities you have turned from a worksheet into an activity, as well as what subject area and grade level you used it at.

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If you’d like to see a tutorial video on creating these, click the link to subscribe to my YouTube channel and turn on notifications to get notified when that video is posted this Sunday, August 11th! You can also like and subscribe to this blog to show some love and let me know to keep on sharing ideas!

Managing Your Time Effectively

How I get it all done in 3 simplified steps

Sonya Barnes August 1, 2019

Effective time management.  Good use of time.  We hear these buzz phrases often and we know what it means, but many of us struggle with the application and concept of what it looks like.  I’ve been blessed to work with and for several people that were great at this and trained me well.  I feel like I handle it pretty well, even though I still have my moments of lost days and utter confusion of what to do.  But I have taken several things from several places over the years and implemented them for awhile now and am quite proud that I have very few occasions of missing or forgetting something.  I have shared these with fellow educators over the years and thought I’d get this out there and share with a few more.  I will break it into a few different sections for easy application and will also create videos that break each step down into a visual, allowing you time to work them into your daily life so that you can not only get everything done that you need to, but also get more enjoyment out of life since you’ll accomplish more and stress less. So, without further ado, let’s jump in!

A generic version of my time zones – be as specific as you need to be!

Step 1: Assigning “Time Zones” Start with a weekly calendar that breaks each day down by hour increments.  Whether you find/create a digital version or create a paper one just comes down to your own preference.  Next, choose three different color markers or highlighters and assign a category.  I like to use green for WORK, blue for HOME, and pink for FAMILY/PERSONAL for association, but any color will work.  If you need to add additional categories such as self-care or a second job, then absolutely do so.  The final step in this category is to go through and color outline (or color fill if you are using a computer) and assign the times.  I usually start with my job since those hours are pretty set.  Then, I go through and sort out the remaining time for when I will complete home responsibilities like cleaning, cooking, errands, paying bills, etc. as well as the family/personal time for workouts, date nights, family outings.  There will be some weeks that this will vary, but for most of us, our weeks we are working are fairly straightforward.  I try and generalize this step so I can hang it on the wall, and it makes it easier to glance when I need to schedule something or decide whether to say yes or no to an invitation to something.

A simple post it in my planner reminds me of my tasks by day

Step 2: Assigning Task Days Now that I have my weekly calendar time zones figured out,  I can plug in my tasks.  If you are like me, you have some tasks at both work and home that are repetitive daily, weekly, or monthly.  Now is the time to go through and plug in when you will complete which tasks.  For example, in my job, I have lesson plans, copying, grading, parent phone calls, duty and meetings that routinely occur, so I assign them a day and time of day to do them.  I also will plug in a spot for monthly tasks to have a day, as well, such as data collecting or student chats so that they have a recurring time.  I do the same for home responsibilities like laundry, cleaning, yard work, shopping and bill paying.  I also like to leave a place holder spot for appointments so that I can plug in a doctor, dentist or hair appointment into that spot and it keeps the flow of our routine for everyone.  Family or personal time can get marked with a workout regiment or sports activities you routinely accomplish or would like to work in but have never found the time to do.

Digitizing everything into my Reminders app as weekly recurring tasks or calendar items can help on those super busy days

Step 3: Organizing and Digitizing It All This final step is crucial to making it stick and turn into a habit that will keep you organized and running a bit smoother.  In this step, I add the tasks to my digital calendar and invite relevant parties.  For example, recurring household chores or appointments get logged and I invite my spouse and children that have devices.  Personal or work-related tasks get added to my own calendar, but my family has viewing permissions of my calendar so that if they have something come up they need to schedule at an unexpected time, they know exactly how it fits into the schedule.  If you are not a tech savvy person or don’t use a digital calendar, then you can mark this in your lesson plan book, day planner or on a family command center calendar, or even just something as simple as hanging your color-coded and filled in schedule on the refrigerator or by the family calendar can help keep everyone informed.  Without placing this information somewhere that you will see it and be able to reference it, you will find it difficult to stick to it.  With my teaching tasks, I will write it on a post it note and tape it to my computer for a few weeks while I get into the routine, especially since it may vary from year to year, depending on my classroom assignments or month to month depending on my duty schedule.

This may seem like a very rigid and difficult thing to accomplish, but it will lend itself to a much less stressful daily life and a much higher productivity level.  I have been running this model for a few years now and have found that I take less work home with me, get more time with my family, and never miss deadlines.  All of these contribute to a happier and less stressful life.  It may take some tweaking to get it down to something that works with your lifestyle and if you don’t have as many directions to go in, you may be able to simplify some of it for your own habits.  Whatever you do, I hope that this helps you manage your time much more effectively.

If you are interested in the step by step videos to accomplish this, head over to YouTube and subscribe to my channel to get notified. I will have a video breaking down each step posted on Sunday, August 4th.

How You Start Your Year Matters

Sonya Barnes                      July 25, 2019

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and that is especially true for teachers and how they run their first day, or first week, in their classrooms.  We have a ton of curriculum to do and, if we have been teaching for more than a few years, we have covered the expectations every year, so it can seem quite tempting to rush through it and get down to business.  But I don’t believe you should do that.  It may impact your entire year, at least, that has been my experience when I gave in and rushed through.  Yes, I know that many districts, schools and administrators push to start getting into the curriculum ASAP, and I don’t disagree that you should, but that doesn’t mean it should be the focus.  Shift the amount or type you do each day.  The first day is, as a former supervisor taught me, is all about “getting them in, getting them fed, and getting them out”.  That’s all you are going to accomplish while they learn the new routine and work out any logistical issues, no matter what grade level.

I suggest to have something quick, fun and related to your subject area to do that first day, and, if it’s a get to know you activity, make sure it’s not something that another teacher they will have them do that day—they can only do so many line up by birthday or two truths and a lie activities in a day. I teach multiple subjects, so I see some of the same kids twice. If you also have multiple preps, that is something else to keep in mind when planning.  I like to do a few different things that allow me to get to know them, see how they work with others and what their foundation and interest in the subject area is, and their learning/working styles without them even realizing I’m assessing them. 

For example, in my Intensive Reading classes, I will ask them to write down a book that something about it stuck with them, changed their life, etc. and why as I circulate and interact with them, then they share that with their table and, if they want to, with the class.  Then I share that my book was Harold and the Purple Crayon because it showed me that I don’t have to try and fit into the world but that I can help make the world fit for me since I think and learn differently.  We then spend time making a poster as though we are Harold and draw a world that we would fit into that aligns with our goals and write a quick blurb about it and we hang these up as a reminder. This takes us several days. In my ELA classes, I have them write a postcard they will get on the last day of school, they draw a picture of what they did over the summer on one side and write a note about their goals on the other, then I hold these for them until the last day.  On another day, I will have several quotes cut out on the table and have them choose the one that best fits them (they can share one) and share why with their tables and with the class, if they want.  The rest of the week I will have them do a round robin writing activity on various genres and topics (a humorous bad day of school, a scary holiday experience) and each writes one section (beginning middle end, or use the plot elements) but they must add onto what another group started.  In both subject areas this is worked around teaching and practicing school and classroom procedures, setting up computer programs or access that we use, and creating and organizing their portfolios. The end of the week I have a “quiz” on it and do something like go on a scavenger hunt to find the question and their answer leads to the next one and if they aren’t in order when we review, we reteach.  I also make a classroom tour video of all these things and post it to my Google Classroom so that they, or their parents, can see where everything is (this is also helpful if a new student comes in and needs a crash course). I give out tons of sincere praise and compliments, bragging about what their former teachers said, positive observations I’ve made, and entertain them with my terrible memory of names.

There are so many ways to start your year off right so that you can teach your students about rules, expectations, procedures, rewards and consequences.  And it will take excessive repetition since some will not have had positive classroom experiences previously so won’t pick it up as quickly.  There are many games and activities that have been handed to me over the years that I have an entire file folder and computer file filled.  I have so many that most I never even use, like get to know you ice breakers—I teach at a K-8 school so they know each other so well that they are counting down their last year to get away from each other and meet new people instead of the same 90 kids they’ve grown up with.

If you teach with a team, look at ways that you can make life easier and parallel what you do to make it easier for your kids.  I remember one year we were expecting a group of kids that we were warned would be a behavior challenge.  Our team sat down and looked at our classroom management processes to see if we were confusing them and creating challenges.  We compromised and aligned what we did as much as we could so that we all had as many things the same as we could.  We then made a PowerPoint Slideshow for our team and we all used it to guide our procedure instruction for the week.  We were able to nip a lot of issues in the bud from the start just by simplifying their lives and giving them less to remember because that repetition reinforced the learning.  It was personally rewarding to find that I worked with a team of professionals as dedicated as I was to student success and willing to find compromise from practices we’d all held for years to help them succeed. 

I encourage you to truly reflect on your teaching and leadership style to see if there are things that you could modify or adapt to activities, and plan for, then it is easier to work in those activities.  For example, do you give a quiz on terms, places or dates for your subject area regularly throughout the year? Instead of a paper-based assessment, turn it into an activity with dry erase boards, relay runs to the board, or telephone game to the teacher.  Talk to other teachers at your school, in your social circles or in an online community (may I suggest the Facebook group Addicted to Teaching? 😉 ) and brainstorm ideas.  Go to teacher sale sites and find things you can print and use again for several years or rotate through.  Take those worn out icebreaker worksheets you’ve used for years and turn them into an activity to get them up and moving and allow you to see them in action—that visual data can tell you so many things about your learners in just a few minutes.  Whatever you choose to do the first week, let me stress this part—make sure it aligns with things you will do in your class all year.  Nothing is harder on a group of kids than having a teacher do “fun” team-based things the first week, then nothing but independent book work for the rest of the year (this is a bit of hyperbole to make my point, or so I hope).  It can really jeopardize the rapport you build with the kids that first week and those relationships you have with your kids are key to having a successful or stressful year.  A good rapport can decrease behavior issues and increase support from them when you have evaluations or those not feeling so hot days that we all have.  Keep in mind the idea that if it isn’t fun or interesting to plan, teach or grade, it probably isn’t a fun or interesting way to learn.  As kids change, we may have to compromise things we have always done for the sake of a stronger classroom environment that supports a new generation of learners.  In education we are blessed with a fresh start each year, so make the most of it and you will benefit from it all year long.